Chester County, PA saw a tremendous amount of tragedy this week. Jacinda Miller was shot and killed at the Brandywine YMCA on Monday night, the first death in a murder-suicide that evening. Three year old Scotty McMillan of West Caln, PA, died after being tortured by his mother and her boyfriend, and we learned his six year old brother also suffered terrible abuse. A Radnor high school student was charged with threatening a school shooting, with plans to kill teachers and students.
Violence of this kind is disturbing. Multiple incidents of this nature in the same community in a one week period is enough to throw anyone into a state of despair. For some of us, the people in the news are our friends, our family. For some of us, they are friends of our friends. For some, they are strangers who now inhabit a part of our thoughts, our worries, our grief.
When hearing about this level of violence, many people experience anger, outrage, disgust, fear, sadness, and sometimes, a level of hopelessness about the world we live in. These are normal feelings, and they deserve to be honored and expressed. People look for meaning, justice, and hope. These too, are natural responses. As we all cope with the news of the multiple tragedies this week, I want to share some thoughts on healthy ways to deal with the thoughts and feelings that come up.
- Walk through the world with open eyes and honor what you see. Yes, we all heard horrific news this week. Be awake to that. Honor and acknowledge how frightening it is that human beings are capable of such violence. By acknowledging the fear and pain, we can help to make the world a little bit safer by advocating for improvements in mental health services, child abuse reporting, and other measures that can help prevent unspeakable acts of violence. Also, keep your eyes open to the good in the world. There is love, compassion, joy, and grace in the midst of tragedy. Be awake to that, too, and participate in it as much as you can.
- Do not over-saturate yourself in the facts. News like this often begs us to read report after report. We think by learning more and more about it, we can somehow make sense of it, or control it in some way. We can’t. Learn enough to be informed and then stop reading the news, stop watching the footage. It simply re-traumatizes you each time you read the details. Protect yourself by limiting your exposure to more “news.”
- Acknowledge how raw this news makes you feel. Sometimes we don’t want to give ourselves permission to acknowledge how bad we feel. “This didn’t happen to me,” “I didn’t know her personally,” are things we say to dis-own our right to have a reaction to the tragedies. You are bearing witness to horror. Allow yourself permission to feel whatever you feel: raw, angry, scared, disturbed, confused, etc. And then take care of yourself. When a child feels upset, you say something like, “Of course you’re scared, that dog barked really loud and lunged at you. Shhh, you’re okay. I’ve got you.” You rub his back, say calming things softly into his ear. You offer him a drink of water, a walk by the creek, or a nice hot bath to calm down. Do the same for yourself. Find ways to soothe yourself. Don’t stuff your feelings, push them away, or churn on them, letting them grow to outlandish proportions. Soothe them so they can occupy an appropriate amount of space to allow you to remain concerned, compassionate, and fully functioning.
- Do something to counter the hate in the world. Love your partner, kids, pets, and/or friends well. Join a group that raises funds for victims of violence. Volunteer to work with disadvantaged kids. Clean up litter in your neighborhood. Hold doors open for people. Anything, small or large, organized or spontaneous, that can spread love and kindness.
I wish you all peace, love, and clarity thought this difficult time,